Different types of diets
With so many different diets out there, it can be hard to know what diet plan is best for you. But dieting doesn’t necessarily mean cutting down calories - diet simply means the food you eat on a regular basis.
Different people might be looking for different results from a diet. Someone might change what they’re eating because:
- They’re trying to lose weight
- They’re trying to get fit
- They want to increase muscle and tone
- They’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant
- They have an allergy, intolerance or dietary requirements such as coeliac disease
- They have a health condition like high cholesterol or diabetes
Do all diets work?
If we’re talking about losing weight, not all diets work for everyone. Fad diets don’t offer a long term solution for a healthy lifestyle, or long-term weight loss. They’re typically based on a low-calorie diet, cutting out food groups and unusual combinations. While they might help you to initially lose weight they can make you ill and you might not be getting all the nutrients you need.
Some of these diets won’t work simply because they’re too difficult to keep to. Days of fasting, cutting out carbs and detoxing, can make you very hungry, grumpy and in some cases dizzy and nauseous. Starting and stopping diets, so called ‘yoyo dieting’, isn’t good for your self-esteem or your body.
It’s best to find a healthy balanced diet and eating pattern that works for you and your routine. This makes it easy to keep up with and become part of your lifestyle. Hopefully this means you can enjoy preparing, cooking and eating food, rather than worrying about calories and cutting certain foods out.
What is a balanced diet?
The best diet for most people is eating a healthy balance of all food groups in the right quantities for you. The most important elements of a healthy balanced diet include:
- Eating five portions of fruit and veg daily
- A third of all meals should be high fibre starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta
- Having some dairy or dairy alternative drinks/foods
- Eating some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
- Choosing unsaturated oils and spreads to cook with and have on toast, but in small amounts only
- Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day
If you’re eating foods high in salt or sugar, then you should have these less often and in small portions. It’s ok to eat these foods, but they should be eaten as part of a balanced diet.
Types of diets
There are lots of different diets that people try and these tend to go in trends. Some people choose certain diets to lose weight, improve their help or support performance/gains from sports and exercise.
The paleo diet is all about eating the same foods that traditional hunter gatherers from the Paleolithic Era would eat, so that’s copying the diet of humans from between 2.5 million and 10000 years ago.
This diet is rich in fruit, vegetables, lean meats, fish, eggs nut and seats. Generally, people on the paleo diet avoid grains, starchy vegetables, legumes, dairy and other processed foods.
The thinking behind the diet is that our bodies haven’t adjusted to modern diets and by sticking to what humans traditionally ate can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Being a vegan means you don’t eat any produce that comes from animal sources, that includes meat, fish, dairy and honey. Strict vegans will also avoid having any animal goods (e.g. leather) and using any products which might have been tested on animals.
Generally, people adopt a vegan diet to try and reduce cruelty to animals and the impact farming has on the environment. But it’s thought there are some health benefits to going more plant based. Find out more about going vegan and the benefits here.
For the most part, people tend to adopt a low-carbohydrate (carb) diet when they’re trying to lose weight. But there is also some evidence that a low-carb diet can help people with type 2 diabetes control their symptoms and reduce the risk heart disease.
If you’re on a low-carb diet you’ll likely limit the amount of carbs you take in each day to less than 130g (the recommended intake is usually between 200g and 300g a day). On a low-carb diet you might substitute rice for cauliflower rice, pasta for courgetti and increase your intake of fruit, vegetables and protein.
The Atkins diet
The Atkins is a type of low-carb diet plan used by some people to help them lose weight and keep the weight off. The diet focusses on cutting down carbs, particularly sugar and white flour.
Initially you cut nearly all carbs and eat around 20g a day, usually from vegetables. You then can introduce more carbs into your diet slowly, but still in very low quantities, until you get to a level you can maintain.
Intermittent fasting has become a popular strategy for lots of people on weight loss journeys. There are different types of intermittent fasting, but they’re all based on the idea of switching between fasting and eating on a routine schedule.
Some people adopt the ’16:8’ method, which is fasting for 16 hours and then having two to three meals in eight hours. This might mean you finish your dinner at 7pm and then don’t eat anything again until 11am the following morning. Some people try the ‘5:2’ diet which is having five days of normal calorie intake and the two days a week dropping calorie intake to 500 for women and 600 for men.
It's thought that fasting can help you lose weight, it gives your gut bacteria time to rest which help keep you gut healthy and there’s also some evidence fasting can help manage type 2 diabetes and cholesterol.
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that mirrors the traditions of the places in Spain, Italy, France and Greece. The diet tends to be include small amounts of fish and chicken, low-fat dairy, olive oil, cereals and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. It also tends to include small amounts of red wine, red meat and potatoes.
Research has shown that following the diet can reduce your risk of things like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, being overweight and Alzheimer’s.
There is also an element of the lifestyle which is about sharing food with other people, being sociable and active.
Best diet for weight loss
The best way to lose weight healthily and stay at your target weight is to make permanent changes to the way you eat and exercise. Not many people are going to spend 3 hours in the gym everyday and never eat chocolate again. It’s all about being realistic and finding what’s right for you.
Making exercise and a healthy balanced diet part of your routine means it becomes second nature. This should also help you make the changes long-term and you’ll lose weight steadily over time. It’s recommended to lose around 0.5-1kg a week until you reach a healthy weight for you.
Best diet for lowering cholesterol
Eating a healthy balanced diet and staying active is a great way to lower cholesterol. Eating foods which are high in saturated fat can increase your levels of cholesterol.
- Cakes and biscuits
- Hard cheese, butter, ghee, lard
- Meat pies
- Coconut or palm oil
Try eating foods low in saturated fat such as:
- Vegetable oils and spreads
- Oily fish
You can also reduce the amount of fat in your diet by choosing to grill, steam, boil or microwave your food instead of frying it in fat.
Best diet for pregnancy
During pregnancy there is no need for a special diet. It’s important to maintain a healthy balance of all the food groups to make sure you and your baby are getting all the nutrients you need.
You should be able to get the majority of your vitamins and minerals from the food you’re eating. But most pregnant women will need to take a folic acid supplement.
There are some food and drinks pregnant women should avoid, these include:
- Unwashed fruit or veg
- Soft blue cheeses
- Mould-ripened cheeses (e.g. camembert)
- Food /drinks made from unpasteurised milk
- Raw meat
- Raw eggs or duck, goose or quail eggs
- Game meats
- Raw shellfish
- Swordfish, marlin and shark
- High dose vitamin supplements or any supplements containing vitamin A
Should I diet?
If you’re thinking about losing weight or changing your diet for a specific reason, it’s always a good idea to speak to your GP. They will be able to help you with suggestions on how best to manage your diet and stay active.
Eating a balanced diet and staying active is one of safest and most effective ways for most people to stay healthy, at all stages of life.
How long should I diet to lose weight?
The most effective way to lose weight and keep the weight you’ve lost off is by making changes that you can stick to, even when you’ve reached your ‘goal weight’. How long it takes to get to that weight depends on a lot of factors, but it’s recommended you aim to lose around a pound a per week. To do this you’ll probably need to be eating around 500 calories less than you burn each day.
It’s possible that while you’re on your weight loss journey, you’ll reach a plateau, and it feels like you can’t lose any more. But it’s important to keep going. You might need to look at how much exercise/activity you’re doing and upping that.
Dieting and eating disorders
Some people find it hard to manage their diet and attitude toward food. This can become an eating disorder.
Please note - if you or someone you know struggles with an eating disorder it’s important you speak to someone. Your GP is a great person to start with and there are charities such as Beat Eating Disorders who can support.